W3C The Mardale Hunt MEMORIES


We stood high on the fell side, the cold was bitter. A covering of snow lay on the very tops of the fells surrounding the valley. Below us hounds were working out a 'cold drag', where the fox had been 'peedling' (wandering around ) during the night before setting his mask towards his laying up point for the cold day ahead.

I don't recall the year but it was sometime in the late 60s. The Coniston for some reason were not accessible and a lift had been offered to Mardale. Several of us climbed in the back of the old van with the obligatory cargo of terriers and sticks - there was not a lot of space and off we went.

We always liked to get on the tops before the hounds lowsed (loosed) and so it would be an early start. Anyway finally the hounds dragged (followed the scent) into the base of a cliff and unkenneled the fox which went out up the cliff face, leaping and bounding up the ledges and grooves towards the top with the odd hound in pursuit, most preferring to go the easy way round to the top before joining in the chase. The 'music' echoed off the crag, it was a screaming hunt.

Mardale and its meet have always played a part in our family who were regular attenders in the years before the flooding of the valley by Manchester. Unlike us who went in a van they walked over, taking their few days holiday and staying for as long as they could find somewhere to sleep or until the money ran out. The pub was known as The Dun Bull and many were the stories of nights after a meet. Joe Bowman and the Ullswater were the pack in those days. But everywhere was demolished, the dead were exhumed and removed and the valley was flooded (see Mardale Hunt Songs).

Don't think anyone knows when the Shepherds' Meet began, it was certainly going on in the 18th century because Dixon of three leaps fame was attending it. The local shepherds met to swop or return strayed stock and it became a generalised time for meeting. Apparently there was horse racing on top of the nearby High Street range, and some poor soul carried up barrels of beer. But towards the end it centred around the hounds and the evenings in The Dun Bull.

I sat in the bar of the Dun Bull and had my sandwiches and a flask. Seemed eerie sitting there a room full of ghosts (well the few feet of wall remaining!). It was 1976 and a severe drought had uncovered the remains of the pub and quite a lot of the house foundations. A clapper bridge (held up by its own weight, no cement), was revealed and I think Dennis (Barrow) and the Ullswater stood on it for pics. Auld Hunty (Joe Bowman) of course was long gone but it didn't take much just sitting there to imagine the nights, the songs and the 'crack' (banter).

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